After a seventeen year hiatus from the series, cult director Shin’ya Tsukamoto returns for a third installment of metal-morphing insanity with Tetsuo: The Bullet Man. Given that it was made nearly two decades after Tetsuo 2: Body Hammer, Tsukamoto certainly had enough time to plan a brilliant return to the series that would not only honor the originals but also reinvigorate the concept for a new generation. With significantly more experience as a director, as well as the enormous advances that have been made in filmmaking technology, it should be a foregone conclusion that Tsukamoto knocked it out of the park with this one, right? Well, let’s discuss.
Just as he did with Body Hammer, Tsukamoto once again reinvents the Tetsuo story from scratch rather than continuing the storyline from a previous film. This time the story follows Anthony (Eric Bossick) an ordinary businessman who’s son is killed in a seemingly deliberate hit-and-run. Soon after, his life begins to unravel further as he (you guessed it) starts to transform into a metal-melded monster with protruding chest guns. Now he must track down his son’s killer, as well as uncover the mystery of who (or rather what) he has become.
Since each Tetsuo installment is a reimagining of the story rather than a continuation of it, drawing a comparison to the original film (Tetsuo: The Iron Man) is inevitable. In that regard, The Bullet Man is, without a doubt, the sleekest looking of the series, although in the case of these films that’s not necessarily a positive thing. A big part of what made the original ’89 version so brilliant was the rough, grainy quality of it which added to the nightmarish feeling of the film. Now, on it’s own, the idea of having the third film be sleeker and more modern looking is conceptually fine, but in this case it is also representative of a larger problem……watering down the aspects that made the first film great in favor of reaching a wider audience.
We saw shades of this in Body Hammer, the choice to film in color, a more conventional story, and a transformation that turns the character into more of a weapon than a monster. This time, however, it’s even more apparent that Tsukamoto is trying to not only appeal to a wider audience but specifically a Western audience. The most obvious example of this is of course his choice to have a half white, half Asian protagonist that speaks English and has an American name. But it shows up in more subtle ways as well such as the excessive exposition and the fact that the transformation turns Anthony into more of a societal outcast with super powers than a metal-plagued monster. It also has by far the most conventional storyline of the series which plays out much more like a standard unwilling-hero-attains-powers-battles-villain-and-seeks-revenge kind of story rather than the brilliant abstract insanity of The Iron Man.
There are certainly nods to the style of the earlier films like the frenetic action, the insane laughing face, and of course the grotesque transformations that meld flesh with metal. However, these feel a bit more like obligatory tie-ins to the series rather than concepts that emerged from the story organically. Furthermore, the idea of the protagonist’s son being killed by the villains to provoke his rage-fueled transformation as well as the fact that he has guns melded into his body are both plot points taken straight from Body Hammer. This significantly adds to the feeling of this entry being more of a re-hash than an original storyline that reinvents the series.
Now, despite all the negative complaints I’ve leveled against the film, I do have to say that as far as the viewing experience goes, the film is actually quite watchable. Sure, the English (the primary language spoken in this film) may sound inexplicably dubbed (!) and sometimes the shaky hand-held action scenes go past the point of frenetic to downright nauseating but the overall film is still weird and interesting enough to hold your attention to the end. When compared to the earlier, superior entries in the series, it pales by comparison but I’d still take it any day over the soulless fucking trash that people like Michael Bay and Adam Sandler produce these days.